Back to work: Communicating the return to the office

Within the next few months, corporate offices will start opening their doors again. This reoccupation will be gradual. There’s not going to be the sudden influx of people in the same way that there was the sudden exodus last spring. Some people will be itching to get back to the office but others may have concerns around safety, wellbeing, the behaviour of other colleagues and the future of their role and the wider business. Addressing these issues and communicating the change in a clear, transparent and open way is important. 

Which is why the team at Magenta Associates, the workplace communication experts, is running a free webinar on communicating the return to the office on 16th February at 1pm.

A return to work communications plan

Here are six things you need to include in a return to work comms plan: 

Why are we doing this?

Clearly state the aims of the return to work. Explain why the organisation is planning on bringing people back at that particular time. This could include lockdowns lifting, Government advice changing and new safety protocols in place to make the office safe. You might also promote the benefits of being in the same place in terms of improved collaboration, socialisation and the ability to work without family distractions. Social capital is built when people are together.

What’s going to change?

The office may look rather different than it did last spring. There might be changes to the layout or reduced meeting room capacity, different ways to enter and move about the workplace, the introduction of  new technology to ensure people’s safety and wellbeing and enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices. The plan should include what the organisation is doing to keep its people safe and details of the new processes and procedures that people will need to be aware of. Other things to include are new policies around visitors, business travel and ongoing home-working.

How will it happen?

This is the really meaty question to communicate. It’s likely that people will come back in stages so that the building is not fully occupied at any one time. That could be achieved in a number of ways: department by department; alternating the days people can work in the office so some teams are in the building on Mondays and Wednesdays, while others come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays; different shift patterns or other options. Clearly explain when people can access the workplace and when they should keep working remotely.

When is it going to happen?

The post-pandemic return to work will be gradual involving perhaps a pilot project of 10% of people before increasing. People will need to know when they’re coming back and when other colleagues are too. 

Where is it happening?

If you have more than one site, then you’ll need to communicate whether all sites are coming back at the same time or if there’s a different approach from site to site. If you have one building, it could be that each floor is treated differently.

Who will be affected?

People will want to know when they’re returning to work and for how many days a week so they can put childcare and travel plans in place. If there are teams which need to be treated differently such as trading floors, legal/ finance departments or teams with specialist equipment such as designers, or people with disabilities, then communicate that. Don’t forget, even those who aren’t affected, or perhaps will be affected much later down the line, will need to know what’s going on.

Finally, don’t stop once the change is complete. It’s likely that the workplace won’t return to normal for many months. As such, people will need reminding about social distancing and any other changes. Keep any communication fresh to ensure engagement.

For best practice advice and guidance on communicating the return to the office, download the free and comprehensive Magenta guide to the topic, join our webinar on 16th February or talk to us about supporting your project.

Cathy Hayward